You are not entitled to my attention

Ignoring someone can be the most powerfully feminist action anyone can choose to take. There’s situations and types of entitlement it’s especially effective against, especially when women receive unwanted attention from men.

Dear attention-seekers: I know it’s hard being you. There’s really very little attention to go around these days, what with advertising everywhere, cellphones, e-readers, and mp3 players vying for your favoured commodity. But you’re not entitled to my attention, no matter what context you want it in.

Female attention-seekers seem to be quite keen on feminism only so far as it produces positives for them: as they see it, their opinion is more valued, less suppressed, and agreed with more readily now that the social paradigm has shifted to take at least some tenets of feminism into account, and tend to hide behind it as a shield to a certain degree when they don’t get what they want beyond the point that feminism would actually support. (I’m not saying this is a common thing in general, just among attention-seekers- they tend to treat ANY potential social advantage that way)

The problem is that this is a completely straw-feminist position. A woman is entitled to equal treatment by anyone who believes in equality or feminism on principle, but that doesn’t mean that any given thought or action a woman expresses or takes should be defended automatically. Feminism is about criticising unequal treatment, and the ways in which women are built up when they shouldn’t be- the kid gloves many men use on women that they view as sexually attainable, when they’re lacking social skills or could do with thinking more critically- that attitude is just as sexist as the unfair and negative treatment more prominent women receive.

One of the most feminist things I do around women is to be ambivalent when they’re pretending to be someone they’re not, when they’re feeling entitled, or when they’re simply attention-seeking. It’s an excellent contrast to the supportive side of feminism, and I don’t even have to be critical to do it, and when used together with supportive feminism, withdrawing praise or attention can actually change people’s behaviour quite dramatically when they value you socially.

But it can get me some odd reactions sometimes. It’s especially a mixed blessing in the dating world, (or at least, the 90% of it or so that involves androsexual women) but it’s not like beliefs are something that can be turned off. Attention is something that people earn, it’s not necessarily a right, and while you get a little of it for free, you can lose it pretty fast, too. While needy favoritism might be successful in getting some positive feedback on the surface, acting out something closer to what you actually feel about people is a pretty good policy.

Abor- wait, I can’t say that anymore?

Feministing has an article about google dropping ads for abortion services in some countries. While I’ve said many times I’d like to see less abortions, somehow I think this is more of an attempt to silence discussion of reproductive rights for women. Given some of the other ethically controversial stuff served by AdWords, I can’t really see them justifying this move. Google’s being mum about why it’s done this, so let the speculations begin. =/

Now who will pick it up…

I/S has a great, uncostly way to make some strides towards pay equity published over at progbills- average wage disclosure.

Any thoughts? Particularly on who should pick it up as a member’s bill?

Why Labour are also fuck-ups

So, seeing I’ve been strongly critical of national on women’s rights, let’s do a retrospective of similar areas where Labour fucked up on identity politics, political freedom and non-discrimination. I have the feeling this is going to make me temporarily popular with certain other Greens who share with me a deep distrust of Labour, and of course I’m sure the National Partisans will laugh it up at both what I believe and the fact that I’m absolutely going to town on Labour. Don’t worry, you’re still in the targets, too. 😉

  • Pay Equity (for women): They essentially started the investigation into pay equity in the public service to make the problem go away until next term. Except that was stupid: Labour ran a healthy surplus for most of its terms in government, an ideal time to implement the increase in public sector wages that would be the simplest way to address direct pay equity issues. Not only that, but they knew they had a pretty good chance at being ousted coming up to their third bid for re-election, so if pay equity is as important as they’re implying, they should have put it on their list to fast-track before the election. Overall their reluctance to act on an issue even the most anti-feminist of women would appreciate in some sense has been inexcusable, and it made their criticism on this issue pretty hollow.
  • Seabed and Foreshore: Confiscating these was a disaster. Even if you accept they needed to be nationalised in some form rather than being claimed in settlement, the government should have at least let Maori have their day in court first and compensated Maori with something else in settlements if they did have a good claim. And even if nationalisation of some sort did go ahead, the seabed and foreshore should have been placed into the public domain (where everybody effectively owns it and has usage rights) rather than vested to the crown. (where we all just have to trust no government decides to do something incredibly dumb with it) Overall a fuck-up of massive proportions even if you didn’t want any seabed and foreshore claims going ahead. Not only that, but reversing this thing is part of the reason National doesn’t have to rely on the Greens to pass anything that Act don’t want to- both in the sense of the existence of the Maori Party, and in the sense of their willingness to form a coalition with National.
  • Marriage is still straight-only: And labour defended it as straight-only. I don’t see why we didn’t go whole-hog on this, civil unions lead that way eventually, and giving space to idiots like Gordon Copeland and Brian Tamaki only encourages them. Make them steam it out.
  • The bill of rights is still only paid lip service: The most ridiculous of bills are found consistent with the bill of rights that even a budding civil rights activist could see are not. If we’re going to maintain the idea that the bill of rights should limit the power of Parliament, let’s actually have at it. For one, we should be having judicial overrulings of implied restrictions of straight marriages for transwomen and transmen, and gay marriage. For another, Three Strikes should be disallowed if it passes. Labour made no move to tighten up our constitution here, and they deserve some of the blame for not doing enough every time National and its most extreme coalition partner rub it in their face with legislation with terrible civil liberties connotations.
  • No checks on Parliament’s power: As the academic and social elite of New Zealand, (as opposed to the financial and social elite, who they sit opposite to) Labour seems to think that Parliament knows best, and even the biggest partisan reformists are reluctant to act quickly and decisively on any constitutional reform. The lack of any meaningful review of laws leads to low-quality legislation as there is no disincentive to sloppy drafting, and only select committees save us from elected dictatorships as it is. More oversight of Parliament is necessary, and I don’t just mean opening the books to OIA requests. Unfortunately, the phrase “constutional reform” sets off monarchists even if it’s unrelated to a Republic, and Labour didn’t have the guts.
  • The EFA: While unlike many from the Right and Centre I don’t think law touched free speech with a ten-foot pole, and I supported the general motivations behind it, there were three big problems with this law.
    • Was not radical or tough enough: If Parliament was going to get tough on electoral laws, they should have gone whole-hog. Instead we have anonymous donations below a thousand dollars in a world where donating anything to a political party is an extraordinary act of partisanship for most. Donations through filter trusts may still evade pubic scrutiny of their real sources, and the loopholes in the EFA are generally still big enough to run a train through.
    • Poor drafting and implementation: Before I get to the political part, this law should probably have set every-year all-year caps at a more sensible rate on both party and issue campaigning. Beyond that, Labour left notification laws a muddle, and the procedure for dealing with them a farce, with even the minister responsible for the law being caught out on her opinions of what did or did not breach it very frequently.
    • Parliament should not regulate politics: If Labour had wanted to do this the proper way, rather than leave the Greens to negotiate a Citizen’s Jury into elecoral finance, they should have put all the relevant laws in the hands of a truly independent body with a similar structure and lobbied like any other interest group. That approach would have probably been a publicity boost, and if it left them with less cash in hand, it would be likely that experts would attempt to be equally hard on National’s large donors to equalise the playing field.
  • Gay adoption and provisions for other non-heteronormative families: This merited visiting in at least some manner after civil unions were passed.
  • Their list: While claiming to be a left party and generally supporting freedoms and championing the underprivileged, Labour betrays the strains of elitism that run through its more powerful tiers by retaining strict central control of their party list. One of the big, and legitimate, criticisms of MMP is that list candidates can be chosen entirely by backroom meeting in most parties. Righting it is as simple as adopting a postal ballot for your list and using it to encourage members to join. Labour should have joined the Greens in this long ago.
  • Prisons: Not only is Labour a staunch supporter of incubating more criminals with a policy of systematic over-incarceration and a justice policy based on vengeance rather than restoration of our community, but this is about the most likely aspect of their policy to get dramatically worse under Phil Goff.
  • Cannot really be called centre-left: Centre-left would imply that there are significant aspects of leftism remaining within the caucus and among senior party members. Labour has been a centre party and a staunch supporter of the flawed attempt at free-market capitalism that trade liberals have unleashed on the world since before MMP, and is remaining one after it. Only their focus on reducing unemployment and their staunch social liberals make them a positive force in parliament. (although that’s a pretty big “only”)
  • Environmentally kleptocratic: Despite their big promises of cleaning up New Zealand and moving towards sustainability, Labour put much more effort towards economic development and paid bare lip service to minimising global warming with their softball ETS that was hardly worth supporting.

Now, keep in mind that this is a very complete list in its strongest and most general form. Largely speaking, I think Labour is the third-best Party in Parliament and actually does more good than harm. I think that its policies for the middle class, its Keynesian streak, its financial (if not economic) management of the country, and its tax system are all very good “second bests”. Most of the MPs individually are good people who I have a lot of commonality with politically, they just have enough specifics wrong to drive me half-insane watching them failing so close to getting it right. Presumably even a pretty good government would generate a list at least have as long, and I think this last government has to be admitted as having managed okay on a fair amonut of issues by most of its critics.

But I have deep reservations on the current direction of the Labour Party, its priorities, its conduct, and its trustworthiness, and would not vote for it under any system where I had an ability to really choose another party. Labour has lost its hang of defending civil liberties, privacies, and its social liberals are mired beneath the free trade academics who think they can get a good deal for the country’s working class through imaginary infinite growth. It’s not gonna happen Labour, and you need to stop thinking that anything but a physically static economy can be branded with the word “sustainable”.mong

More philosophy: The Universal Right to Life

So, having been drawn into the topic of abortion lately by the comments, I want to wax philosophical1 about the antecedents to2 my beliefs about abortion.

One of the reasons I turned away from believing that abortion was largely wrong to seeing it as very difficult to understand (and eventually from there to believing that women are the best judges of whether they should have one or not) is the issue of the universal right to life. This may seem rather backwards to some people, as the right to life is a supporting argument to a pro-life position- but the reason it eventually led me to a pro-choice position was the problems with the universal right to life3 that make it a very extreme belief.

Firstly, the universal right to life is the most consistent justification for a pro-life point of view. It says simply that life itself grants the right to further life, and you only need DNA, enough size to have some sort of brain, and a pulse to have a right to life. As I said in the comments earlier, this has a number of implications: The first is, you better be one hell of an animal rights activist. Not only can someone who believes in a universal right to life that makes abortion immoral not eat meat, they have to be exactly as evangelical about vegetarianism as they do about their pro-life views. Also, you should probably move to somewhere they believe in reincarnation and sweep the street clear of insects if the right to life is to you, so sacred and universal, that you would never kill an animal.

Secondly, life implies violence4, and violence implies killing. Even if we don’t directly kill, business advantage takes food out of someone else’s mouth, we ignore poverty that leads to harm both here and overseas, we enable or directly wage wars, we stand back with our non-interventionist policies while other people oppress and murder each other, and that’s even ignoring all the times animals kill each other that we stand back and allow. If you believe in a universal right to life, you already have a lot of fires to put out.

So, many pro-life supporters don’t. There are two common restrictions on the right to life. The first is the personal restriction to killing: I believe in a right to life, so I will not kill. This is a functional position, but it prevents you from arguing for this standard for everyone else and thus imposing it by law, especially if you rely on others to kill for you- if you support war or soldiers, or lethal force in police action, or torture, or political assassination, or anything similar, even discounting the killing of animals involved in human life5. This really falls down when taken in context of other beliefs of the people who use it as an argument, because it’s so inconsistent with many pro-life values, it’s likely just a stand-in for the second idea.

The other idea sometimes comes bundled together with a personal restriction, a form that’s probably more viable than a personal restriction alone. In its most extreme form, it goes like this: Something about the human species makes us special, and anything concieved with our DNA has a right to life from conception. This is not usually an argument to the right to life from sentience or personhood, as these concepts are both very debatable in how early they apply to infants, fetuses, zygotes, etc… Neither is it an argument from human potential- this has its own problems. This restriction is usually about any human life being sacred, and it seems to have roots in an anthropocentric6 thought- it seems to be used as a justification that not only can humans not be killed, but that anything that prevents the proliferation of the human species is morally wrong. This sort of thought has always been problematic to me, and my opposition to it led to a lot of my current thoughts and beliefs- my criticism of “strong” catholicism, my Green beliefs about sustainable population, the view that the human race is just a particularly smart type of animal, and so on. This type of thought is fundamentally incompatible with modern life: it incites wistful denial of global warming7, it opposes birth control and sexual liberation, and it’s highly vulnerable to tribalism in its extreme form: “only people like me are really people!”
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Hey, at least we didn’t fuck things up last time

While I think they’re making things go disastrously wrong in terms of pay equity, I have a small amount of sympathy for National on Women’s Affairs. Not because they’re any good on women’s rights, (oh, they realise that they’re important, hence the $2 million funding increase for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs) but because Pansy Wong is at least correct when she says that National presided over a large catchup in the pay gap for women when they were last in Government.

But I don’t thing they can claim all the credit for that- their women’s policy at the time was essentially: “Okay, let’s outlaw blatant discrimination, then hope it gets better without looking at any of the tricky stuff.” And it did, because women were still moving towards becoming more professional, more educated, and businesses were moving towards taking advantage of that fact, and to their credit, the Equal Pay Act facilitated this process. But the transition towards a dual-gendered workface is now largely over; there is still improvement to be made stamping out pockets of gormless misogyny in say, the I.T. sector. But that doesn’t mean National can expect to cancel everything that’s going on in the MoW’sA, start doing things their way, and expect that to save them money and get better outcomes for women. Sometimes it’s actually more productive to maintain operational continuity.

Especially seeing the biggest thing on the horizon was that the government was going to try and lead the way by doing better about its own pay problems. Pansy Wong is going to look very embarrassed if one of the opposition MPs works out that they can just attack her on why the government doesn’t just pay women an equal amount itself if it’s so committed to pay equity.

I can tell National realise this is going to be important, I just don’t get how they think that sitting back and “not fucking things up” like they did after passing the EPA will be enough. That last twelve percent is full of tricky little problems, like unequal promotion and bonuses, relative over-qualification of women in any given position when compared with men’s qualifications, and business practices unfriendly to flexible work hours and parental leave. None of these have “fire and forget” fixes that National can use, and I get the impression they’re way over the heads in this.

John Key fails to manage sexual harassment

So, people elsewhere have covered the Worth saga pretty well covered. I think the Hand Mirror covered it pretty well from the perspective that I would have.

What I instead want to talk about is what this means for the Prime Minister, and a National Party that’s trying to be Not Quite Labourâ„¢ and do things like actually worry about stuff that some women do, such as breast cancer.

The Prime Minister has managed this like crap. I think this is one of the things a lot of kiwis didn’t realise they would be getting when they voted for Not Quite Labourâ„¢, as they talked the talk very well on some more mainstream women’s issues (read: issues that appeal to straight Pakeha women1) but couldn’t walk the walk. The contrast here couldn’t be clearer: our boring, sensible leader of the opposition is discrete, respects the privacy of the woman who made allegations, asks for evidence but doesn’t blame or pressure her, and trusts her and supports her without going in swinging as some sort of ill-conceived white knight without her permission. Gentlemen, (and other guys) this is a great example for what to do if a someone2 ever confides in you that they have been sexually harassed.

In contrast, when John Key was tapped discreetly on the shoulder by Phil Goff, he did not ensure he got to see the texts or emails or call logs, his “investigation” didn’t even ask Phil Goff for them. This suggests that it was not an investigation, and in fact he merely asked Worth for his side of the story and then covered for him when he denied it. A clue for potential Prime Ministers, employers, or leaders of any type: Sexual harassment is serious. Don’t leave it to be a matter of who said what- if there’s any documentation to be had, get it. Whether the allegation is real or a fake, SOMEONE is going to need counseling to deal with this at the end, so finding the facts is excellent.

John Key also initially said he would “out” the people alleging Dr. Worth sexually harassed them, until he eventually broke down under repeated questioning and admitted it might be appropriate to hear their evidence privately. This breaks another rule: Don’t go public unless you have to take public action, (such as a dismissal) and if you do have to, don’t share details, don’t name names you don’t have to. Whether or not there is substance to the allegation3, I think the person who made it deserves privacy in our culture where victims of sexual crimes are attacked more than perpetrators. People bringing allegations of sexual abuse deserve to be considered innocent of lying about it until they are proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt, and right now, the court of public opinion does not work on those rules.

I know it goes against the instincts of many men, but victims need to be able to choose just how much they can handle in bringing their allegations to bear. For some people it is shaming or even traumatising enough that it even happened in the first place, and they would collapse under public scrutiny. Sometimes not even making allegations at all can be the best road for recovery. As friends, bosses, leaders, family, whatever- we don’t have the right to make those choices for other people. It’s great to see that there are still people in parliament that get that.

The National Party seems to get that it needs to give in to things that are popular with women, but it still isn’t listening to women who are victims of sexual harassment on how to deal with that sort of situation, and still seems to be stuck in the era where you play defense for your mates until you can retire them safely to the back bench. This sort of thing can’t be shut up now fortunately, so it’s something they’re going to have to deal with, at least if they want to court the Women’s Day vote any longer.

While this affair hasn’t been a home run for the media, it’s been a dramatic improvement on past coverage of sexual harassment/abuse allegations, and I’d like to acknowledge that. There was actually an assumption that the victims had a right to privacy. I shouldn’t have to be happy about that, but I am, and that’s the way the world is right now. Let’s keep hoping for more: Hopefully our Prime Minister will pick up the steps as we force him to dance this issue4. Hopefully the media will continue to protect the rights of victims this way. Hopefully. 🙂

1Obviously I’m not saying straight Pakeha women aren’t women too, just that they’re not the only women.
2Yes, sexual harassment happens to men, too. In fact, men are even more reluctant to report it than women, partially because of the perception that they should have liked it. Sexual harassment perpetrated against men has a lot of the same psychological baggage associated with it as rape perpetrated against men.
3In cases where there isn’t substance to an allegation of sexual harassment, counseling is a really good idea anyway. A counselor will help them deal with whatever issues caused the allegation- whether it was an unprovable case of sexual harassment, or a cry for attention, or a symptom of a larger psychological problem, mental health needs dealing to, not mocking and attacking in the style that the public usually brings for what they perceive as false allegations.
4Or we decide that we need a new leader who’s better at this sort of thing. (ie. not Bill English) Either’s fine with me, really.